Your Silver Bullet aims to be the "euro" of advisory software by creating a kind of common denominator that eases the way for different software packages to work together and promotes integration within the financial services industry.
It started when financial advisor Greg Friedman, principal at CRM Software--the developer of Junxure CRM and ClientView office management--was approached by other software company owners about developing an interface between their applications and his. In February 2007, Friedman and some of these others founded Your Silver Bullet as a clearinghouse where software companies could make commitments to develop such interfaces faster and work together to promote that communication.
Friedman had seen the need for companies to make their software work well together. "We at CRM and myself as an advisor feel strongly about being able to choose independent applications that we like and want to use for our firms," says Friedman. He wants those applications to interface or integrate to avoid redundancy and duplication of data across databases and share information to increase advisors' operational efficiency.
Your Silver Bullet has 22 member companies with others in the application process. Its Web site (yoursilverbullet.net) offers advisors specific technology information on those 22 companies, their products and the interfaces that already exist. The organization is working to make the site a valuable resource for advisors where they can obtain current information on applications that work together.
Friedman emphasizes that Your Silver Bullet is not set up as a competitive, profit-making entity. Its purpose is to provide assistance to the member companies and the advisors they serve. "Your Silver Bullet helps promote and facilitate the building of these interfaces between independent software companies and allows me as an advisor to say that I would like Junxure for my CRM, another company's financial planning application, a third company's portfolio management solution and a fourth company's forms application because I like those particular applications," Friedman explains.
Junxure interfaces with about 15 software programs that include functions such as portfolio management, forms applications and document management. Your Silver Bullet has developed six or seven integrations--interfaces between applications of member companies. Other integrations are under construction. A subcommittee will develop data standards to move the process along faster and better.
Another advantage of Your Silver Bullet is the marketing leverage it provides its members. "When an advisor is using XYZ software, and that data can automatically be integrated with the data in our process, it makes the development in our investment policy statement so much easier and more effective for the user," says Norman Boone, founder and president of Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco.
Boone is the creator of IPS AdvisorPro, software which allows an advisor to quickly and consistently build a high quality investment policy statement. "We'll work with or eventually work with Junxure, ProTracker and Red Tail so that contact information and other data that has been input into those pieces of software can be automatically downloaded into IPS AdvisorPro," Boone says. "The most time consuming part of using IPS AdvisorPro is entering the data. If you can eliminate half of the data entry effort, you are going to save a significant portion of the time that it takes to build an investment policy statement using our software."
If IPS AdvisorPro users can take the data these firms already have in their planning or contact management software, advisors avoid the risk of entry mistakes and save time by eliminating the need for extra keystrokes.
Mosaic uses various Silver Bullet programs. "The more the different software packages integrate, the easier it is for us to bring in somebody and teach them how to use the software. Because they have fewer data entry points to learn, there are fewer questions that need to be covered," Boone notes. "I expect that eventually this will lead to similar software interfaces--the way in which people use software will look increasingly familiar. The learning curve will be shortened because increasingly, the different programs will operate similarly."
Boone is currently talking with Finametrica, an online software product that offers a risk tolerance measurement tool that is more sophisticated and at a higher level than he typically sees. "We have a risk tolerance questionnaire as part of our data entry process that integrates with our investment policy statement," Boone says. "Some people prefer to use the Finametrica approach, so being able to substitute Finametrica for those who want to use it will allow users to do things in a way that better reflects their preferences."
When asked about the objective or goal of membership in Your Silver Bullet members appear to be on the same page. Their responses include: To simplify integration, to raise awareness of a company's brand, to offer more than one functionality to advisors, to support and improve the lives of financial advisors, to move toward better data exchange between applications, to improve sales, to support the concept as a better way to service clients, to help keep independent advisors ahead of the wirehouses, to support the philosophy that "best in class" software better meets advisor needs, and to create relationships that make it easier to integrate with other products.
Erin Flynn Jay is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.
Know Thy Client
"CRM initially started as contact management or sales force management, if you will," explains Herzl Hyton, CEO of Interactive Advisory Software (IAS), a CRM division of Optima Technologies based in Marietta, Ga. "Now it is a wide-reaching system, and those who use CRM have the option of looking at all the household data for one household at one time." In short, he adds, advisors now have the ability to mine that information and really make use of it.
For example, the CRM module offered by IAS portfolio management allows the user company to inter-operate between databases and do so in a tax-efficient manner. "The wealth manager using CRM such as ours can find out if a client has options and what he or she should sell first or second, and how that impacts taxes, and more," Hyton explains. "Our portfolio uses planning as part of forecasting and will rebalance the portfolio while looking at each stage of your client's life...we are not just keying numbers and running calculations."
On the downside, wealth managers seeking client information across numerous databases could get into trouble with compliance or other privacy-related issues, which is why IAS and other CRM companies and technology firms see safe and successful customer management as a key to the future. Hyton believes a unified or consolidated solution is the answer and says future growth of CRM depends on providing a secure and holistic solution at a reasonable price.
At Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Fla., CRM is integrated not only with key client-based applications, but directly to the back-office system, explains Josh Bohlander, senior manager at RJ for Technology Product Management.
"As the planner opens an account for a new client, CRM detects whether or not a contact record exists, and if not, creates one automatically," Bohlander says. "We take away the 'start-up' effort of populating the database for each advisor by providing all of the data upon their first entry into CRM." From Bohlander's perspective, key essentials for CRM are ease of navigation, data integrity and integration. These three areas allow the user to be successful in implementing a thriving contact management strategy, regardless of the solution, he points out.
"Our advisors are very interested in ways to efficiently automate their existing procedures as well as tap into best practices across our entire advisor population," adds Bohlander. "We are currently in the process of developing a library of best practices from our top advisors. Our planners like the ability to document their client conversations and attach an electronic copy of their financial plan to the client or household contact record so all client information is accessed in one place."
In the accounting industry, Jim Boomer of Boomer Consulting Inc. (www.boomer.com) in Manhattan, Kan. says he has seen CRM become a hot topic in the past year. This IT manager says, "Firms are looking to move from a simple contact management system--which contains basic information about clients such as name, address, email and phone number--to a more extensive CRM system. The main driver behind this shift is the ability to track all client touches including email. Most CRM systems also integrate with document management systems and offer firms the capability to track the client touches through the entire sales process, [from] leads to proposals and engagements. As more firms are looking to move away from hours-based billing and towards value billing, a CRM provides the information necessary to demonstrate the value the client has received."
For Boomer, the key elements of any CRM system are:
Common communication tool - This is a system that acts as a single location where communications with clients, vendors and partners are initiated and captured.
Ease of use - The system must be intuitive and easy to use or the implementation will not be successful.
"Fit" with existing processes - The system should be chosen for its fit with the firm's processes after performing a thorough review. Too many systems are chosen first, causing the firm to try to adapt its processes to work with the system.
Integration with existing systems - An in-depth review of integration points with existing systems and databases is important.
Remote access/synchronization -
With more professionals working remotely, it is imperative that employees have access to the most current information when on the road.
Reach that extends beyond just sales - For firms to truly achieve the benefit of transparent communication, the CRM should be used and accessed by everyone in the firm.
Future trends in CRM from Boomer's point of view are the need for email integration, Web access and integration with collaboration and document management systems such as SharePoint.
"Despite technological advances in CRM, the fact still remains that a CRM system touches all parts of a professional services firm, and thus the bigger issues become user adoption and change management," Boomer says. "As with any software implementation, these issues can be very time-consuming."
Marian Chang (email@example.com) is a freelance business journalist and feature writer based in Reno, Nev.
Given the range of options andthe rapid pace at which technology advances, deciding which pieces of computer equipment will best meet your firm's needs can be nerve-wracking--even for the tech-savvy. The following guidelines from technology consultants who work with small- and mid-sized companies around the country can make the job a bit easier.
Desktops: Look for either dual- or quad-core processors with a minimum speed of 2.6 gigahertz per second, says David Tan, chief technology officer at CHIPS Computer Consulting in Syosset, N.Y. The latest in processing technology, dual- and quad-core processors integrate two or four processors respectively onto one chip, boosting performance. That boost is particularly helpful if several employees share one computer, so that it is often running several programs at once. You'll also want at least one gigabyte of RAM, or random access memory, and a minimum hard drive capacity of 80 gigabytes.
Most tech experts advise sticking with brand names, rather than the so-called "white boxes," or computers assembled by firms that lack a large customer base. Generally, the larger firms offer better guarantees and support. Moreover, the volume discounts negotiated by the large vendors have greatly reduced the price differences between their products and others, says Munroe Sollog, network engineer with Digirati Computer Consulting LLC in Bethlehem, Pa.
For all this, expect to spend somewhere between about $900 and $1,200, Sollog adds, plus the cost of software.
Laptops: Because more business users are relying only on notebook computers, they now require about the same amount of power and memory as their desktops. Because laptop technology typically lags desktop technology, quad-core processors are just entering the market; however, dual-core processors are available. A business-suitable laptop usually runs between $1,800 and $2,200, says Sollog. While less expensive models can be found, their lack of speed and weak battery power quickly become frustrating.
A docking station, with ports for plugging in a monitor, keyboard and mouse, can turn a laptop into a desktop. This helps to avoid the eye- and arm-strain that can come from working on a smaller keyboard and squinting at the laptop monitor. Docking stations typically run several hundred dollars.
You'll want to consider how well protected the laptop's components are. Some brands can sense when the laptop is falling, and will lock the heads on the hard disk into position so that they won't be damaged by the impact, says Randy Hayman, president of PureIce, Inc., a technology consulting firm based in Eagan, Minn. Hayman also chairs the Independent Computer Consultants Association, a St. Louis-based trade organization.
Monitors: A growing number of workers say that one monitor isn't enough. By connecting two monitors to one computer, they can more easily move between applications. "You eliminate flipping back and forth," which more than compensates for the cost of the second screen, says Darren Pedersen, IT services manager with Miles Technologies in Moorestown, N.J.
Carolyn Sechler, a Phoenix-based CPA, uses two monitors to view a spreadsheet and accounting file simultaneously, making it easier to analyze a client's financial statements.
Server: Webopedia.com defines a server as "a computer or device on a network that manages network resources." Installing a server can make even a three- or four-person office more efficient because it provides a central repository for data and the ability to centrally manage user accounts.
While a server is a computer, it performs different tasks than a desktop. It pays, therefore, to go with a computer built as a server. You'll want several hundred gigabytes of storage. And because reliability is key--if the server goes down, it can take the entire office with it--experts say it should have one or more redundant hard drives. Many are configured in what's known as a RAID, or redundant array of inexpensive disks, which increases reliability and performance. Similarly, a redundant power supply, in which the machine plugs into the electrical system in two places, can protect against a power supply failure, Sollog notes.
Network Equipment: You'll need a switch to link all the devices together and intelligently direct network traffic to the correct computer, says Miles Technologies' Pedersen. The newest "gigabit switches" can increase the speed of the entire network, he adds. The switch should have enough ports for all your office devices to plug into it. If your firm has several PCs, printers and other equipment, a 16-port switch probably makes sense.
Security Equipment: A firewall sits between your modem and network to keep outsiders from accessing your network and viewing the files, says Hayman. Some routers include firewalls, although many experts recommend getting a separate one. The lower end firewalls included in most routers don't allow for remote office connectivity, and their traffic-logging capabilities are more limited, Pederson says.
A UPS, or uninterruptible power supply, protects against fluctuations in the power supply that can damage equipment and result in lost data. UPS devices start at less than $100.
Finally, all files should be backed up daily to an external hard drive, which starts at about $100. You can purchase software that will initiate the backup automatically. Sechler, for instance, has installed software that backs up her firm's data each night to a hard drive located in another building.
Printer/copier/scanner/fax: For most offices, one machine that combines printing, copying, scanning and faxing capabilities will meet everyone's needs and require less space than a separate machine for each function. And in the long run, a laser printer will cost less and require less maintenance than an inkjet.
Karen Kroll, a former financial analyst, writes extensively on a variety of business topics.
A Paperless Year
"My one thought on document imaging is that it's so simple most people blow it," says Christopher J. Cordaro, partner and CIO at Chatham, N.J.-based RegentAtlantic Capital. "You don't need an SQL-database solution to index files; they're expensive and confusing. All you need is a high-speed scanner and the basic folder structure that comes with Windows. We have been paperless from 1996 using that very simple, cheap solution. The answer is so simple, most advisors can't believe it. They end up wasting tens-of-thousands of dollars on a complicated system that no one can figure out and therefore, no one uses."
Sounds good! The point is to find a method that is comfortable for your office. Perhaps being integrated with your custodian or broker/dealer once your documents are digitized appeals to you. That's what Jersey City, N.J.-based iNautix offers through its NetExchange Pro platform, according to Marc Butler and Michael Nesspor, managing directors of the Pershing affiliate. In fact, Nesspor says advisors can bypass buying a scanner by using a fax and fax imaging.
Going paperless is a top goal of wealth managers this year, Nesspor and Butler agree. And they are seconded by Ken Hyman, president and CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Partnervest Financial Group. Paperless account opening systems are in the offing, involving e-signatures--from Pershing Advisor Solutions, for one, launching in this first quarter--and by major financial institutions as well. "The industry is trending toward this," says Hyman. "Big banks have offerings ready. There's a general belief that regulations allowing electronic signatures are still debatable." But according to virtual-office consultant Joel Bruckenstein: "It depends on who your custodian is. If they don't need paper signatures, you don't have to print out forms."
Records retention and storage is another step in the paperless flow. "Everyone's interested in this because of what you can save--tremendous time savings tracking down files," says Hyman. You can make your own office more efficient in finding and accessing records and files and in sharing work with others. "Why have whole rooms stacked to the ceiling with file cabinets," Bruckenstein asks rhetorically. "Think of how expensive real estate is!"
To those who remain squeamish about the safety and security of electronically storing 20 years worth of confidential client data, Bruckenstein argues that there are plenty of safety and security issues with paper, as well. "What if a floor above has a fire or a pipe bursts. Digitally you've got two or three sets of backup. Where's your backup with paper?"
Laserfiche, a leading paperless solutions company, has been a longtime proponent of going paperless. Says Tim Welsh, president of Nexus Strategy LLC and a consultant to Laserfiche: "I do lots of presentations to financial advisors, and when I mention that going paperless will increase their ability to grow--which is a big factor when businesses are being valued on a multiple basis--I see people sit up straighter in their chairs and really listen." A white paper available on the Laserfiche Web site states that advisors stand to increase their profits from 40 percent to 55 percent as well as the overall value of their firms by investing in electronic document management technology.
Paperless systems enable more efficient compliance with audits, adds Brian LaPointe, Laserfiche director of strategic solutions. "Our recent informal survey of advisors at a major industry event found that 75 percent plan to implement electronic document management in the next year to increase front-office and back-office efficiencies, streamline regulatory compliance tasks and reduce rent costs." Laserfiche, he says, is capable of supporting compliance mandates.
And what of the other side of your flow--working with clients? "Data needed when you're away from the desk can be made accessible wirelessly," says Christopher P. Willis, EVP of marketing/strategic alliances at Pyxis Mobile. Handhelds provide access to trade blotters, compliance, market data and reports.
And there's more than one way to view a document once it's electronic. "We'll improve upon what Windows gives you," says Jeffrey Sigarra, senior product manager of Paperport, adding that its users can browse documents visually rather than by name, "making it more like your desktop--where you see a contract or W2 form rather than look for a file name."
Digitizing communications with clients is also on the mind of Bill Spalding, president of Bill Spalding Financial Services in Atlanta. Not only has his firm just made the transition to paperless, but he also wants to extend his good fortune to his clients. "We're integrated with our main custodian and can interface with multiple custodians, banks and credit card companies," he says.
Spalding adds that having forms online means no more printing out, no more stuffing envelopes and sending paper. Instead, the work is done via emails or faxes--"any way the client wants it." Still another route to help clients become part of the paperless continuum is to let them in on software that advisors may want to try themselves--like OrganizeMY Electronic Filing Cabinet for Dummies. "We see ourselves as a tool to organize and file electronically," says Michael Schweizer, the software's developer and a veteran of financial service firms in Canada.
The bottom line to going paperless is the efficiency advisors crave. Notes Robert Jackson, president of Jackson Financial Advisors Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., "We are going through a conversion now because we believe it's essential for most businesses--and in particular financial advisors--to go paperless. Regulators are behind the curve."
Janice Fioravante wrote about the VAT tax in June 2007.
Many small business owners today consider laptop computers as merely a desktop replacement, a way to keep up with work while pursuing their mobile lifestyle. But without the help of an internal IT department, how is it possible to sort through the plethora of features, size and power options available? The following primer offers laptop basics to get you up to speed.
Weight. Small business owners must consider how they want to use their laptop for their business, says Ilene Rosoff, founder and owner of the Launch Pad, a Florida-based technology solutions provider. If it's to be primarily a desktop replacement that will rarely be taken out of the office, a bigger screen and more power are important. If the laptop is used for travel, weight is certainly a consideration. Anything under five to five-and-a-half pounds is an appropriate target. With employees spending an average 20 percent of their time being mobile, Rosoff says weight can become a factor.
Most clients of Planet Magpie, a California-based IT consulting firm, don't want the weight of the added screen size, which can be significant if you have to lug the machine around a lot.
"They are opting for the 14.1-inch, on which you can still get high resolution," says Magpie President Robert Morgan., "They are happy with the trade-off for weight versus size."
Durability. Two-thirds of laptop users participating in a Harris Interactive/Panasonic Computer survey in November 2007 considered durability as a "very important" or "absolutely essential" feature. In fact, 42 percent reported experiencing some form of laptop mishap--dropping, knocking or spilling. Companies whose employees work in sales and other outside-the-office jobs might want to consider a more rugged laptop, says Rosoff. Panasonic offers its Toughbook line of notebook computers which provide more durability for both industrial strength notebook computers and business-rugged, thin-and-light laptops.
Security. When it comes to laptops, security is a big deal for small businesses; luckily there are many inexpensive options, Morgan says. Most computer companies offer encryption for laptops on the hard drive itself for just a few-hundred dollars extra. USB devices used with laptops present other security risks--especially when employees carelessly put them down and leave them behind. While every small business trusts its employees will treat these devices as proprietary information, Morgan says the key is to get these devices with encryption as well.
Also available are various after-market packages such as Microsoft's Group Policy Objects (GPO). With this tool, administrators create rules on the server that allow them to lock in the types of hardware that can be used on laptops, desktops, and servers.
Rosoff says small businesses might also want to consider Intel's vPro chip that adds security levels to laptops that are often stolen. The vPro offers nice options for businesses contracting IT outside the organization," she says, enabling contractors to control computers remotely--both laptops and desktops--and fix problems.
Mobility. One of the laptop's greatest features is the ability to carry around your data and applications as a portable desktop. Users also can connect to the Internet through both broadband and wireless access, which come built in with all laptops. Another option, however, is connecting through mobile broadband tied to one provider, such as Sprint or Verizon. Workers no longer have to search for WiFi availability or pay exorbitant prices in business hotels. Although it's been available for a couple of years, people are just now beginning to embrace this, Morgan says.
Software. Even though laptops these days come with Microsoft's Vista operating system, Rosoff says 90 percent of the Launch Pad's clients still run Windows XP Professional. Not all hardware is compatible with this new system, although patches to fix problems are available. "The upgrade to Vista was difficult for organizations," says Rosoff. "Small businesses must make sure their hardware will support this product. Regarding its functionality, there is not a lot of difference in the two."
Organizations with 50 employees or less can benefit from Microsoft Small Business Server, which has a number of mobility features built in.
Support. Another critical area for small businesses, says Morgan, is understanding the available support for their laptops. These firms usually don't have the time to run through an entire script on the phone with tech support when problems occur. "Support is often buried when you purchase a laptop because you don't know about it until you need it," Morgan says. "We find most of our clients typically choose IBM [Lenova] when the support options and what they have to go through are explained to them." An extended warranty is another important feature, says Rosoff, since laptops can be expensive to fix. Screen protection, for example, is one good option.
Once a small business decides on a laptop, Rosoff suggests it consider having them built-to-order, rather than purchasing off-the shelf models, in order to control what goes on the system. Notebooks can come with lots of additional or unnecessary options that make the machines run slower.
Laptops provide small businesses with many benefits that encourage productivity and mobility. Used as a desktop replacement, they may ultimately result in cost savings as well, since licensing fees are purchased for only one computer as opposed to two.
Vicki Powers is a Texas-based freelance writer who often covers technology issues.
Your Digital Face
When Robert Klein decided to redo his Web site, he didn't want anything traditional. For starters, he wanted a site bathed in light, warm tones. "I didn't want a dry, me-too site," says Klein of Financial Design Center (www.financialdesigncenter.com) in Newport Beach, Calif. "Numbers scare people."
So Klein looked at hundreds of sites in an unexpected industry: resorts and hotels.
The result is a fresh mix of financial education tools, a newsletter ("Financially InKlein'd") and nature photos ranging from coastlines at sunset to soaring eagles and waterfalls. Content reflects his mission: "Planning, managing and protecting your financial independence."
Like Klein, other financial advisors are venturing outside the cyber-box to create their sites. And for good reason: no single Web design fits all, the experts say. Customization--reflecting an advisor's personality and investment approach--rules! The look is clean, clear and fresh. Templates are discouraged; instead, design flows from an advisor's brand and logo.
"It's about driving ideas," says Andy Gluck, CEO of the Web design firm Advisor Products (www.advisorproducts.com). "Who are your target clients? You must have a clearly articulated value proposition." Spinning Web design from a firm's marketing copy is the best way to do that, Gluck adds. For example, if 80 percent of your clients are doctors, use medical images as part of your branding process, says Gluck, whose firm helped Klein design his site. Optimally, branding must be consistent: An email address should match the domain name.
Personalization is key. Why? Because the Web site is a relational tool, a conversation starter, say experts. And the home page should "engage people right away," adds Brian Boarts, a business development manager at AdvisorSquare (www.advisorsquare.com). Images on the home page drive the message, he says, and can include a brief mission statement. "If you don't talk to me from the home page, you've failed," Gluck says. "Be simple. Don't use flash movies."
In fact, forget glitzy technologies, the experts advise: Pod-casts don't generate links, and blogs must be approved by compliance. Some advisors' sites do include an audio greeting or flash design, but they are still few. "Too many bells and whistles means that the site takes too long to load," Gluck points out. "Instead, use the site to communicate deeply with clients."
Larry Saffer of the Saffer Financial Group (www.safferfinancialgroup.com) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. uses flash technology depicting an opening door to enter his site. His message: "We treat you like family," is woven tightly into the fabric of the site that displays sepia-toned photos of coins and other objects. "I wanted a progressive site, that would look up-to-speed three years from now," Saffer says. So besides educational material and a monthly newsletter, the site also compactly displays headline news, financial topics, market snapshots and a bio on the home page. "People say they love it," says Saffer, a client of AdvisorSquare. "It's fresh."
To get such fresh ideas, Gluck counsels his clients to surf through lots of Web sites. For his part, Klein already had an outline and written copy before hiring Gluck's firm. Dozens of phone conferences, Web sorties and emails later, the look and content of the site started to emerge. Then Klein sorted through hundreds of photos--provided by Advisor Products--to find the serene nature shots featured on Web pages.
Daniel Goott, an investment advisor at his family-run firm Investec Advisory Group (www.investecadvisorygroup.com) in Houston, Texas looked at more than 100 Web sites before deciding on using brown and gold tones. With a photo of the Houston skyline splashed across the top of the home page, there are also clear links to tools and client account data right there.
There are, however, some taboos to creating sites. Putting too much copy on a page so that clients have to scroll down is not helpful. Aim for no more than four photos per page, brief text and a white background that's easy on the eye, says Boarts. The site should also be clearly organized--only one click away from information. Of course, essential data such as bios, contact information and a mission statement must be included. But rather than simply listing services, experts advise including personal photos and interests, such as hiking. And a family photo is essential.
Most advisor sites are mainly sales tools, the experts agree. The reason: Client service tools are more difficult to create. Thus, most advisors look at Web sites as brochure-ware, says Gluck. But that's steadily changing. For instance, Klein, Goott and Saffer all provide links that enable clients to check their accounts online. Saffer's site even provides a video tutorial for a client service called The Living Balance Sheet.
Fortunately, major financial Web design firms provide lots of content. The objective: to stay fresh and current. Investec, for example, sends out a weekly e-newsletter. "At least they see our company name once a week," says Goott. Advisor Products has a backlog of research tools and custom-written articles that firms can post. And AdvisorSquare also offers articles, as well as tools like calculators. Advisors can also change copy on their sites in real-time by simply entering the database and typing in changes.
Thus, a good site constantly changes and evolves. When a site is finished, Boarts recommends informally polling clients about it. That feedback guides changes. And so the process continues.
Constance Gustke, a New York-based freelancer, has worked at Worth and Fortune magazines.
Time Is on Your Side
Life would be easier for wealth managers if all they had to do was manage wealth. But they also have to manage their firms, whether they have one employee or 25. Fortunately, there's software around to manage everything from purchase orders to human resources, but what about software to manage that most precious commodity: time? There are only an immutable 24 hours in a day, and if you mismanage them, there's no going back.
I've spent years looking for the perfect time management program. Some have too few features, while others are too complex. (First item on the electronic "to do" list each morning: Figure out how to use the damn time management system.)
For a few years now, I've found a pretty good compromise with the desktop calendar that works with my Palm handheld. It's perfectly functional, with color-coding for different categories so my work appointments appear in yellow and my personal ones appear in pink. I can set up repeating appointments, add notes, and view a day, week, or month at a time.
Still, it's not particularly exciting, which is why I was pleased to review a copy of Timeline Maker Professional, a time management program that comes with a designer's sensibility. Data entry is simple: You enter an event name with start and end dates and times that can cover an hour, an entire day, or weeks. Next, assign a category, which you create yourself, such as "client meeting," "professional development," or "family-personal." Create as many as you want, and be as specific as you need. You can even attach relevant documents in Word or Excel, for example, which can be opened from within Timeline Maker. With a little tweaking, you can also import appointments from Outlook.
When you're done, you click on a "chart" tab, and this is where Timeline Maker shines. Create a bar chart, which shows each event on a timeline in a series of color-coded dots. Or for more detail, use a tagged version, which displays custom-designed labels on each item with the details you've entered. Either way, you can stretch or condense the time scale. The resulting figures are especially good for sharing within an office to schedule everyone's meetings, for example. The design and layout options are nearly limitless, so it coordinates well with any firm's report styles. And you don't have to be a tech expert to save the timelines in PDF, HTML or any major graphic format--the program does it with just one button. The timelines also fit neatly into PowerPoint presentations.
It even comes with a spell check--something that my Palm desktop could really use.
One serious drawback is the lack of a repeat function. So if you meet with your staff every Monday morning, or a particular client the third Wednesday of every month, you have to enter each meeting individually. However, the tech support people I asked about this got back to me the same day via email, which is a good sign the product is well supported.
The program is available at www.timelinemaker.com for $195 for a one-user license. The company offers a free 30-day evaluation copy.
Richard J. Koreto, Wealth Manager editor in chief, manages every minute of every day with his Palm Tungsten E.